A Labor of Love to Engage and Inform: 25 Years of the Bay Area Breast Cancer Forum

By Karen Gehrman | October 18, 2023

25 Years of the Bay Area Breast Cancer Forum

For over 25 years, the Bay Area Breast Cancer Forum has provided an opportunity for patients, providers, clinical research coordinators, and community members to hear the latest in breast cancer research and treatment recommendations from UCSF experts.

Upcoming Forum

"Updates from ESMO 2023"
November 29th

Listed as “a bi-monthly educational session to explore the latest developments and advancements in breast cancer research,” the Forum consists of a moderated panel of UCSF experts who present on a variety of topics and concludes with an open discussion where questions are strongly encouraged. Panelists regularly report research findings from annual oncology conferences such as the American Society of Clinical Oncologists (ASCO), San Antonio Breast Cancer Symposium (SABCS), and European Society for Medical Oncology (ESMO) meetings.  Additionally, the Forum covers a wide range of topics from sexual health, survivorship wellness, nutrition, and topics in integrative oncology.

Oriented primarily towards patients, the event attracts advocates, clinical research coordinators, faculty, staff, and community members.  By offering informal access to UCSF experts who volunteer their time and expertise, patients are empowered to better understand the latest, frequently complex, cancer research findings and their implications for patient care.

From the Early Days of the Cancer Center

The Forum began in 1997 as a monthly meeting from October to June with moderator Dr. Debu Tripathy, then director of clinical research at the UCSF Carol Franc Buck Breast Care Center. From those early days the event was acknowledged as an important tool for community outreach and education. When the Cancer Center applied for NCI designation in 1999, the Forum was highlighted among the Center's efforts to "reach a broad public audience with cancer information and research findings."

CCSG Bay Area Breast Cancer Forum 1999

From 1999 Grant Submission: "A New Vision for Integrated Breast Care"

A subsequent grant submission touted the Forum as "a very popular part of our outreach," and credited the event with sparking an important panel discussion on addressing barriers to clinical trials for underrepresented populations of women, a recording of which was used for outreach to community groups to promote clinical trials. In 2002, the Forum came under the direction of Dr. Hope Rugo who has continued as moderator for the past two decades. 

"A Great and Fulfilling Thing"

Attendees listen to Dr. Hope Rugo at a Bay Area Breast Cancer Forum

Dr. Rugo answers questions from participants at a Forum in Herbst Hall at UCSFʻs Mount Zion campus.

“Working on the Forum has been such a great and fulfilling thing,” said Rugo. “Understanding the questions and concerns that patients voice during the Forum has improved my communication with patients.”

The experience is mutally beneficial as patient advocate Dr. Kelly Shanahan notes that having immediate access to faculty has an added bonus to simply learning more about the lastes research. "It shows that even the most renowned of our doctors are eminently approachable." 

Prior to the construction of the Mission Bay campus, the Forum was held in person on the Mount Zion campus where much of the Cancer Centerʻs patient care and research was conducted. Held after hours, the event featured a light dinner which added to the informal, welcoming setting for speakers and participants, many of whom were at the end of a long day of being in the clinics.  

A Patient's Perspective

Patient advocate Dr. Kelly Shanahan offers her thoughts on the value of this unique event.

When did you start listening to/attending/become aware of the Forum? Or did your participation coincide with or prompt more advocacy for yourself? 
I learned of the Forum right before the pandemic, as I recall from a friend who was also living with MBC and getting care at UCSF. I was a well-established advocate at that point and was thrilled to find such a rich source of information from leaders in breast cancer research and clinical care. The ability to join in remotely, to ask questions via the chat feature, and have such robust interactions between patients and UCSF's stellar faculty and fellows has been very welcome.

Metastatic breast cancer survivor Dr. Kelly Shanahan and her oncologist Dr. Hope Rugo

Did information you received from a Forum discussion change your approach to treatment or was there any other tangible effect on your cancer journey because of the community/providers/discussion of the Forum? 

Sessions highlighting ongoing research and potential new treatments would normally have prompted me to ask my oncologist, but since my oncologist is the incomparable Dr. Hope Rugo, she was usually 3 steps ahead of me! The Forum did give me an opportunity to ask questions about what was in the pipeline outside of visits. The Forum also allows me to learn and share with others living with MBC, via my social media channels. 

As a provider yourself, how do you feel this kind of public discussion benefits patients? 
Knowledge IS power! The Forum allows patients to become better educated about breast cancer, about research, both bench and clinical, and also shows that even the most renowned of our doctors are eminently approachable. Better informed patients are able to participate more fully in their care, truly leading to shared decision making.

Your own experience spans from provider to patient to savvy research advocate - have you noticed any changes in patient involvement in the Forum over the years you have been involved in it?
I think there are more "newbies" joining now, people who haven't been involved with breast cancer advocacy for the 100 years since their early-stage diagnosis. I think there are more people with MBC than when I first entered the Forum, which is wonderful, because it shows we may be living longer, and better, with more energy to participate in such activities. Other people ask the most insightful questions, and I learn so much from them, as well as from the faculty. 

I'm hoping to meet some of my fellow patients as well as some of the faculty I haven't already met  at an in-person Forum Summit (hint, hint!)

Volunteer Power

Dedicated staff members have been key to the success and longevity of the event and have expanded the mailing list, scheduled speakers, and solicited funding to provide food at Herbst Hall.  All staff and faculty participants have volunteered their time to promote and organize the event. In 2011, staff members took the initiative to rent audio equipment from the UCSF Library to create podcasts that could be shared on the Cancer Centerʻs website and social media channels. Having audio files to share with those who were unable to make the trip allowed the Forum to inform a larger audience.

Melody Gawliu was working as a Clinical Research Coordinator in the Breast Oncology Program when she took over the staff management of the Forum from long time Breast Care Center staff member Lauren Metzroth in 2014. Despite advancing to a new role as Data & Safety Monitoring Committee supervisor at the Cancer Center, Gawliu has continued dedicating her time to facilitate this event.

"It has been such a joy to help organize...it’s hard to believe that I've been a part of it for almost 10 amazing years now!” Gawliu continued. “Although I no longer work directly on the Breast Oncology Team, I wholeheartedly believe in the purpose and vision of the Forum so I plan to keep contributing and volunteering my time. I only wish more people knew about this wonderful educational opportunity that is being provided to the public." For Dr. Rugo, “Melody is the cornerstone. She is dedicated, and like all of us, volunteers her time to make this happen.”

Adapting to Change

After the opening of the Bakar Precision Cancer Medicine Building in 2019, the Forum moved to the Mission Bay campus to better acccomodate patients. Due to the international disruption of the COVID pandemic, the Forum quickly pivoted to an exclusively online forum in June of 2020 and has kept the virtual format.

PCBM Slide

Dr. Rugo noted the switch from hosting the Forum in person to online has had surprising benefits. “It has been a tremendous advance, really. Although I miss the personal face to face interactions, we can reach so many more people who are in any geographic Bay Area location. And I can access many more varied speakers without issues about location. So, I think in balance it's been a good thing.”

A recording of the latest event “Updates from ASCO 2023” has received over 500 views in just two months. Episodes can be viewed online at cancer.ucsf.edu/forum or on the UCSFCancer YouTube channel. With dedicated faculty and staff and growing patient engagement, the Bay Area Breast Cancer Forum shows no signs of stopping.

The next Bay Area Breast Cancer Forum will take place November 1st and will cover "Updates from ESMO 2023." Interested participants can email [email protected] to be put on a mailing list for this and future events.

Bay Area Breast Cancer Forum


Did You Know?

The Bay Area Breast Cancer Forum is just one of several events highlighting breast cancer research advances coordinated by Cancer Center members. Every fall, the annual Taste for the Cure: A Taste of Science explores the impact of food and science on breast health, and the Breast Oncology Program holds a 1-2 day retreat each spring that offers a deep dive into junior and senior faculty research. All are open to the public and welcome patient engagement.